Sunday, June 01, 2014

They Prayed—and They “PUSHed.”

(Seventh Sunday of Easter (A): This homily was given on June 1, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 1: 12-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventh Sunday of Easter 2014]

They prayed—and they “PUSHed.”

I’m talking about Mary, the apostles and the other disciples of Jesus who were gathered together in the Upper Room from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost Sunday.

We are told in today’s first reading that after our Lord ascended into heaven on Ascension Thursday, the apostles went back to Jerusalem—to the upper room where the Last Supper had taken place—along with our Blessed Mother and some other disciples and relatives of Jesus.

The text says that they (and here I quote) “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.”
And what exactly were they praying for?

Well, Jesus had specifically told them not to leave Jerusalem, but rather to wait for what he called “the promise of the Father.”  Exactly what that promise was, they probably didn’t fully understand; but Jesus definitely made a big deal about it, since he spoke of this promise—this gift (whom he also referred to as “the Advocate” and “the Paraclete”)—both before AND AFTER his passion, death and resurrection.

We know, of course, that this promise and gift was a Person—a divine Person—the third Person of the Blessed Trinity: the Holy Spirit, who would descend upon all of them on Pentecost Sunday and give them the power to go forth and witness to their faith in Christ and convert the world.

This, by the way, is where the sacrament of Confirmation comes from.  This is what the sacrament of Confirmation is all about.  If someone asks you, “Why do you Catholics receive a second outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation when you’ve already received the Spirit in Baptism?” you should respond, “We receive the Spirit in Confirmation so that we can be effective witnesses to Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith in the world!  We receive the Spirit in Confirmation so that we can have power to (as Pope Francis would say) ‘rebel against the culture’—the godless culture in which we’re currently living.”

It’s not so that a person can get married in the Church!—that’s not the purpose of the sacrament.   It’s not so that a person can be considered “an adult in the Church.”  Please hear this: if you’re over 18 and you’re a baptized Catholic, then you’re an ADULT in the Church whether you’re confirmed or not!

My goodness, no wonder our society is so messed up!  Most of you know the current situation: we have lots and lots of confirmed Catholics out there (especially in public life) who work really hard at promoting just about everything that’s contrary to Jesus Christ and his teaching: abortion, gay marriage—you know the list.

And they see absolutely, positively nothing wrong with supporting these things.

They’re completely ignorant (perhaps willfully so) of the meaning of this very important sacrament that they once received.

And so they’re not witnesses TO Christ; they’re actually anti-witnesses to Jesus Christ in the modern world!

They need prayers.  Lots of them!—prayers that they will open their hearts to the gift they once received on the day they were confirmed.

Speaking of prayer, this is (as I said earlier) what Mary and the apostles and the other disciples were doing in the upper room after the Ascension.

But, as I also said a few moments ago, they didn’t simply pray, they “PUSHed.”

And in that, they are great role models for all of us.

“Fr. Ray, what are you talking about?  Are you telling us that they pushed each other around and had a rumble in the upper room?”

No, of course not.

“PUSH” here is an acronym—an acronym that I’m sure at least some of you are familiar with.  The letters in the acronym stand for the following: Pray Until Something Happens.


The followers of Jesus who were gathered in that upper room didn’t just pray, they prayed UNTIL SOMETHING HAPPENED!

If they had not done that—if they had not PUSHed as they did—there would have been no Pentecost!
If they had said, “Well, we’ll give it 3 days.  If Jesus doesn’t give us the gift he promised us by then, we’ll just go back to our families and our old jobs and our old way of life,” then they would have missed the Spirit when he came!  The same is true if they had stopped praying after 4 days—or 5, or 6 or 7 or even 8!

Now, because it’s 2,000 years after the fact, we all know that it ended up being 9 days—which, by the way, means that it was the first “novena” ever prayed!  The Spirit descended on them all on Pentecost Sunday (the 10th day after the Ascension).

But they didn’t know it would happen that way!  Jesus hadn’t given them a schedule in advance.  He simply told them to pray until the promise was fulfilled.

Which is what they did.

And I believe they would have done that even if the Lord had made them wait 100 days—or more!

The reason I mention this today should be obvious.  We all pray for God to bless and help us (and other people) in various ways, but when the Lord doesn’t seem to respond immediately to our prayers we can be tempted to “throw in the towel”.

We pray, in other words, but we don’t always “PUSH.”

Which is a big mistake, because even when God doesn’t say yes immediately to what we ask for, I believe that he still wants to give us something—something that we have a greater need for at that particular moment.

I’ll give you a personal example.  Obviously, since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, I’ve been praying to be healed of it.

And many of you have been praying for the very same intention in your daily, personal prayers.

For that, incidentally, I sincerely thank you!

God hasn’t said “yes” to that prayer (at least not yet!).  But I intend to keep PUSHing, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d do the same.

But this doesn’t mean that our request for God’s help has gone unheeded.  The Lord has definitely been at work.  You know one of the most difficult things with any serious illness (and many of you know this by experience) is coming to the point of “acceptance,” and remaining positive.  It’s reconciling yourself to the fact that you have a serious condition, and you need to deal with it as best you can—with God’s help.

Well, thankfully, I’ve been able to do that.  Once I got over the initial shock of hearing the diagnosis, I was able to deal with it pretty well.  That, I believe, was the fruit of prayer.  And, although I have my moments of frustration when I’m not able to do certain things as quickly or as efficiently as I used to do them, most of the time I remain pretty positive.  That, too, is the fruit of prayer.  And in 3 ½ years the disease hasn’t progressed all that much, which is yet another great blessing.

So, even though God hasn’t healed me—yet—he has done something.  I have prayed, many of you have prayed—and something has happened.  Now we need to continue to pray, until something else happens.

And that’s the point.  Yes, we should pray our prayers of petition until something happens, but then we should keep on praying until SOMETHING ELSE happens!

Which is what Mary and the apostles did!  They prayed until the Holy Spirit came down upon them at Pentecost; but they didn’t stop praying at that point.  Rather, they continued to pray until the next “something” happened.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

Let me put it to you this way (and I’ll end with this thought):  We’ve all heard the saying, “Life is a rush.”  Well, for the Christian, for the true follower of Jesus Christ, life is also a “PUSH”!  And that PUSH (that act of “Praying Until Something Happens”) is supposed to continue until the end of our lives.  And the good news is that if it does, in all likelihood at the end of it all Jesus will literally push us—and many of the people we have prayed for—into his kingdom.